GlaxoSmithKline hails major HIV breakthrough: Drugs giant claims injections better than daily pill
GlaxoSmithKline hailed a major breakthrough after its revolutionary injection to prevent HIV thrashed the standard treatment in a clinical trial.
The company said an injection of its cabotegravir drug every other month had been 69 per cent more effective than rival Gilead’s daily Truvada pill at preventing men from catching HIV.
The tests were so successful that researchers stopped the study three years early.
Boost: For GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley, HIV is a research priority
The ‘game-changing’ injections mean GSK could be poised to retake the lead in the £20 billion global HIV drugs market.
Glaxo previously dominated the sector but has since fallen behind Gilead. The apparent success of the drug will be a big boost to chief executive Emma Walmsley, who has made HIV one of her top research priorities alongside respiratory, oncology and immune-inflammation medicines.
The drug was developed at ViiV Healthcare, which is majority-owned by GSK. Kimberly Smith, ViiV’s head of research, said a long-acting injection was a better treatment because users have been shown to struggle with a routine of daily pills. Some also say this adds to the stigma around the virus.
Smith said: ‘If approved, this long-acting injectable has the potential to be a game-changer for HIV prevention by reducing the frequency of dosing from 365 days to six times per year.’
She added: ‘Individuals have to show up every eight weeks in the clinic for the injection but in-between there is not a need to take a pill daily, so you really change the equation for adherence with a long-acting drug.’
Researchers opened the study of 4,600 men, who have sex with men and transgender women, in late 2016 in countries including the US, Brazil, South Africa and Thailand.
The randomised trial found that 50 men caught HIV during the period covered by the study – 12 of whom had been receiving GSK’s treatment and the other 38 of whom were taking daily pills.
Preventive therapies are seen as the key to controlling the spread of the disease, which can develop into AIDS, among at-risk populations.
The trial, which has not been peer-reviewed, has a sister study examining the effects of the injection treatment on women.
And GSK has a pipeline of other treatments that include combination pills for people living with HIV, which affects 38m worldwide. The virus was first identified in the 1980s and is thought to have crossed over into humans decades before when hunters ate an infected chimpanzee or got its blood into an open wound.
Jared Baeten, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, said the results were ‘really exciting’.
Cambridge-based GSK is collaborating with firms and research groups across the world to work on promising potential coronavirus vaccines. It is working with Sanofi on a vaccine that is expected to enter clinical trials later this year.
GSK shares rose 2.4 per cent, or 39.4p, to 1687.2p last night.
PHARMA TAKES OFF
Pharmaceuticals have become a safe haven for investors during the crisis.
Last month Astrazeneca toppled Shell as the largest company on the FTSE 100 by market capitalisation with shares rising 8 per cent so far this year, valuing the company at £114 billion.
Fellow blue-chip drugs company Hikma Pharmaceuticals has risen by 24 per cent so far this year while AIM-listed Novacyt’s shares have risen around 2,500 per cent so far this year after it made one of the first coronavirus tests.